“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29)
Those are the first words that John the Baptist says concerning Jesus in the gospel of John. John the Baptist calls Jesus the Lamb of God.
Admittedly, I’m not very familiar with sheep. I didn’t grow up on a farm, and have never really spent much time around animals except for household pets. The decorations in the nursery for each of my children involved sheep, yet these were mostly soft and cuddly; seeming more cartoon than real. My first real encounter with sheep in the “wild” was during trips to Wales to work with a church on some summer missions. The Welsh countryside is absolutely beautiful, and there would often be sheep wandering along the hillside, yet sheep in the countryside are not bright white like in pictures. Instead, they are a dirty brown with what appeared to be abnormally long tales, at least to a city boy.
Thus, because of experiences, the metaphor as Jesus as the Lamb of God seems hard to grasp. But, in scripture, it has a rich history, and needs to be interpreted through a multitude of lenses.
We hear that phrase and we travel back to Egypt. It was the Lamb that ensured safety and rescue from Egypt. It was the lamb that was sacrificed, and the blood placed over the doorpost in order to protect the children from the angel of death. It was the lamb; the perfect, unblemished, lamb that was slaughtered so that others could live. It’s every year at Passover that the stories of slavery and redemption are again spoken. Beautiful stories of the lamb.
We hear the phrase and we travel back to Leviticus, the book we long to avoid yet is so important. In Leviticus we learn that the punishment for sin, the way to receive atonement, is the death of a lamb. The sacrifice that is made when you and I mess up is that a lamb will be killed. The priest will take the lamb, after we’ve placed our hands on it’s head, and the priest will slit it’s neck before us. The blood will drain out of the animal, and we will watch it burn on the altar, knowing that as the flames and smoke float up to the Heavens our sins are being taken away. We remember that our sins come with a price, the lamb dies in our place.
We hear that phrase and we think of Isaiah. The famous passage from Isaiah 53, one of the Suffering Servant passages. We remember that one grew up before us, but then was sacrificed for our transgressions. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. Yet, because he was willing to suffer and die, he overcame sin and death. It’s by his righteousness that we are ultimately saved.
We hear that phrase and we look forward. Jesus dies at Passover. Jesus is crucified perhaps at the very same time that the Passover lamb is being slaughtered. Redemption is coming. Our slavery to sin is being broken. God’s people are set free.
We hear that phrase and we look forward even further. We look forward to the end of the world, wondering how God could possibly turn our broken reality into a good future. We see the sin around us and wonder, how will God’s good creation come. Then we read Revelation and realize John is in a similar spot. John is weeping because he doesn’t know how the future will reach it’s good end; how God will bring about the redemption. Yet at that moment, the angel comes over and says, don’t weep, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the root of David has conquered. He will open the scroll and bring about God’s future. And we look and we see the victorious king, not dressed as a warrior or as royalty, but we see a Lamb who has been slaughtered. And the Lamb of God, the one who died for the people, is the one who can open the scroll, and bring us to our good end.
The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
When we see the full picture, the Lamb is slaughtered to set the people free,and the Lamb is victorious especially because he is slaughtered. When we see this Lamb, we recognize that history moves forward, and evil is defeated in this act of self-giving, this act of humility, this act of love for others. When we see Jesus, we fall down and worship the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
When we see this Jesus we worship; and we follow.
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.